Review: 'Part-time Spy' has a strangely endearing lead

Marcus Goh
·Contributor
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)

Secret ending? No, but the credits are interesting to watch.

Running time: 111 minutes (~1.75 hours)

Part-time Spy (Encore Films)
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)

“Part-time Spy” is a Korean action comedy in Korean.

The film revolves around a fired contract worker at a government agency. When she discovers that her ex-boss has been the victim of a scam, she volunteers to go undercover and recover his money, despite not being trained as a spy.

“Part-time Spy” is directed by Kim Deok-su. It stars Kang Ye-won (Jang Young-sil), Han Chae-a (Na Jung-an), Jo Jae-yun (Deputy Park), Kim Min-kyo (Mr Yang), and Namkoong Min (Choi Min-suk). It is rated PG13.

Part-time Spy (Encore Films)
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)

Don’t be fooled by the posters for “Part-time Spy” — in the film, Jang Young-sil (Kang Ye-won) looks nothing like what she does in the posters. It’s quite an amazing feat to see a Korean actress pull off her role by sheer dint of her performance, rather than relying on outward aesthetics to appeal to the audience.

What makes “Part-time Spy” stand out from the crowd is that its physically unattractive protagonist manages to, against all odds, win our hearts.

Part-time Spy (Encore Films)
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)

Highlights

Jang Young-sil is disarmingly endearing and sympathetic

It’s difficult to find a physically plain character in any Korean film, let alone a main protagonist, but “Part-time Spy” pulls it off handsomely. The lack of any attractiveness or fashion sense makes her seem more like the Everyman, which in turn makes her more relatable to audiences. Her humble and unassuming nature is also a refreshing contrast with all the other attention hungry characters in the film.

Part-time Spy (Encore Films)
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)

Insidious antagonists

What makes one of the antagonists so sinister is the sudden twist in tone. For most of the film, the villains are played up for laughs and stay true to the caricatures that they are. A scene in the film suddenly changes that when you see how much manipulation has been going on behind the scenes, and the callous desperation that ensues. It completely changes your impression of the character, truly giving you a villain that you love to hate.

Part-time Spy (Encore Films)
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)

Fast paced plot

“Part-time Spy” has a fairly complex plot with multiple twists and turns as each new character brings a fresh set of complications to the story. For a comedy, it manages to jam so many pivotal scenes into the film that it’s actually rather difficult to write a concise but accurate synopsis of the film. Young-sil may be a “Part-time Spy”, but it’s got a full-time plot.

Part-time Spy (Encore Films)
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)

Letdowns

Too much irritating slapstick

The comedy is where Korean cinema has a long way to go. There are too many slapstick jokes that actually detract from the funnier scenes. After all, it’s difficult to be laughing when you’re cringing half the time. That’s not to say that “Part-time Spy” isn’t funny — it’s just that the failed attempts at jokes can be a huge distraction at times.

Part-time Spy (Encore Films)
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)

Too many random segues

Despite having many twists and turns, “Part-time Spy” has too many meaningless digressions from the main plot. It might be to build character, but it seems to be too much effort for a point that could easily be resolved in one or two lines of dialogue. As a result, you find yourself wondering where certain scenes are leading just before they abruptly end.

Part-time Spy (Encore Films)
Part-time Spy (Encore Films)

“Part-time Spy” has an unattractive but strangely endearing lead.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Okay.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? No.

Score: 3.0/5

“Part-time Spy” opens in cinemas:
– 6 April, 2017 (Singapore)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for Police & Thief, Incredible Tales, Crimewatch, and Point of Entry. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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